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San Bartolome Church » Jewel of Nagcarlan and the Legend of the Secret Tunnel in Laguna

Bell Tower and part of Front facade of Nagcarlan Church in Laguna
Recently I was down in Nagcarlan Laguna to attend a mountaineering training and whilst I was there, together with our HAKAMS trainors and co-trainees, we did a side trip to an old church: St. Bartholomew Church (Iglesia de San Bartolome) or commonly known as the Nagcarlan Church

You’ll see that I have featured various old churches on this blog. Where did this interest come from? Well, although I am an occasional churchgoer, it does not originate from religious fervor like those doing a Visita Iglesia. It partly originated from my liking of century-old structures – because when you think about it, very few buildings survive from such a distant past, and I always find them enigmatic.

Also, it is interesting to note that whenever we travel in the Philippines, there are always structures from the past like these old churches that speak of the Filipinos’ collective identity. I am always fascinated by the way you can get a glimpse of old history - not just of major events, but of old way of life. We have so much to learn about old ways of thinking just by visiting these century old structures so dropping by is really worth the time.  

Historical notes

The St. Bartholomew Catholic Church is a tiered-wall church created by the Franciscans, 102 km south of Manila and is the most distinctive landmark within the town proper. It is located in Nagcarlan, a town that straddles at the foot of two mountains – Mt. Cristobal (Devil’s Mountain) and Mt. Banahaw (Holy Mountain) and is considered the largest of the upland towns in the province of Laguna.

Facade of the old Nagcarlan Church showing old Spanish architecture
Nagcarlan Church showing its facade embellishments which are enhanced by the play of light and shade showing a distinct Baroque architectural details
In 1583, Fr. Thomas de Miranda, Nagcarlan’s first priest, built the first church in Nagcarlan using light materials, wooden materials and nipa which were dedicated to San Bartolome, one of Jesus Christ Apostles, in which the church was also named after.

In 1752, Father Cristobal Torres spearheaded the building of Nagcarlan Catholic Church using bricks and stones, far better improvement from the light materials that was used during its initial construction.

Historical marker of the Church of Nagcarlan in Laguna Philippines
However, the Church was heavily damaged by a fire in 1781. Re-construction and repair was immediately initiated by Father Anatacio de Argobejo and later by Father Fernando dela Puebla, who was also credited for building the "four story brick bell tower" which is still standing in Nagcarlan today.

Colorful flower inspires floor tiles used in Nagcarlan Church floors and isle
Elaborately designed tiles of the Church's flooring.

Another Franciscan missionary, Father Vicente Belloc, lead the further re-building and general restoration of the Nagcarlan Catholic Church in 1845 using adobe to stood the test of time. It was also at that time when the floor of the church was completely re-done using elaborately designed tiles.

Details of the Nagcarlan Church side entrace showing pillars and arc
Side entrance showing a distinct Baroque architecture
Old Spanish Church Architecture: Two greek pillar with inscripted cherubim designs
Details of the Church's facade showing pillars carved with Catholic figures and angels
Nagcarlan Church’s architecture is Baroque - its facade has a semicircular arched main entrance flanked by semicircular windows. The embellishments of the facade and the side entrances are distinctly Baroque and this impression is enhanced by the play of light and shade among the architectural details which include tall pedestals which lift the columns on the second level, fenestrations and columns of varying number and length. These details alter the church's otherwise stolid rectangular structure.

Interior and altar of the Nagcarlan Church
Modernized Church interior
With its various renovations and lighting improvements it is noticeable that the church is somehow now modernized. 

View of the Nagcarlan Public Market in Laguna Philippines
Nagcarlan public market just outside the Nagcarlan Church compound
Although the Church is still the most distinct structure within the town's major thoroughfare, it is now battling the inevitable transformation of the town for the sake of progress.      

Old Grotto of the Virgin Mary at the side of Nagcarlan Church
Grotto of the Virgin Mary attached to the Bell Tower beside the church.
If you are a Kapamilya fan, most likely you saw this church in the fantasy soap opera television series “KampanerangKuba,” or literally the Hunchbacked Lady Bell-ringer.
The Legend of the Hidden Tunnel of Nagcarlan

Pilgrims flock to the Nagcarlan Church to pray before the images of St. Bartholomew and San Diego de Alcala known for their miraculous healing. However there is also one interesting belief among the locals about a hidden tunnel which is referred to as “the Jewel of Nagcarlan”  

In 1851, Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery was also built under the personal supervision of  Father Vicente Belloc, which was built exclusively as burial ground for Spanish Friars and missionaries.

For whatever reasons the builders had in mind, the distance between the Nagcarlan Catholic Church and the Underground Cemetery was set a couple of kilometers away from each other. This is contrary to other Roman Catholic Churches built during those early years. Traditionally, cemeteries were built as part of the landscape of the church itself.

This underground cemetery is also considered as one of its kind in the Philippines.

Thus, the stories about the existence of a "hidden tunnel of the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery" circulated and never ceased to depart from the minds of the believers.

This legend has been passed from generations after generations of Nagcarleños about the hidden tunnel somewhere in the very heart of Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery that is believed to be connected behind the church’s Altar. Stories unendingly chronicled that the Franciscan Father Vicente Belloc who supposedly had the first hand knowledge of the secret tunnel, protectively carried the secret of the underground tunnel to his grave.

To this date, many in Nagcarlan still believe and adhere to the "hearsays" that if one can locate "the Jewel of Nagcarlan", "the Hidden Tunnel of Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery" that connects below the Altar of Nagcarlan Catholic Church, he might also be tracking his way up to the summit of the Legendary Mount Banahaw!

Final Note:

Nagcarlan Church is truly one of the beautiful churches among those I already visited. Not as grand as those old churches in Bohol, but it is truly a piece of historical landmark. 

This century-old architectural marvel, together with the nearby Underground Cemetery, and refreshing resorts around the area - are interesting tourist spots that makes this quaint old town worth visiting. 

» Dorado, Monching. Nagcarlan, Laguna PhilippinesTourist Attractions [Retrieved: 28 August 2012]
» WikiPilipinas Entry. Nagcarlan Church [Retrieved: 28 August 2012]
» Nagcarlan Moving Forward Website. Nagcarlan,Laguna, Historical and Cultural, Yesteryears, Today and Tomorrow. [Retrieved: 28 August 2012]

1 comment:

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